SGI-USA Men's Division Monthly Meetings
Suggested study material for May 2005
The suggested material below is excerpted from the introduction section of the first installment of SGI President Ikeda’s series, Lectures on “The Opening of the Eyes,” published in the November, 2004 issue of Living Buddhism. In these excerpts, President Ikeda discusses Nichiren’s indomitable life condition while living in exile on Sado Island.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A Call to Open Our Eyes (Living Buddhism, November, 2004, p. 20 to 23)
How can we open the closed eyes of people’s hearts? With what light can we illuminate the darkness of ignorance? It is Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law, who opened a path to answer these questions.
The flame of the Daishonin’s struggle as the votary of the Lotus Sutra—a struggle aimed at leading humanity to enlightenment and actualizing the principle of “establishing the correct teaching for the peace of the land” while battling against all manner of devilish functions—only burned even more brightly when he was exiled to snowbound Sado Island. We can discern his unyielding resolve from the following well-known passage of “The Opening of the Eyes”: “This I will state. Let the gods forsake me. Let all persecutions assail me. Still I will give my life for the sake of the Law. . . . Here I will make a great vow. . . . I will be the pillar of Japan. I will be the eyes of Japan. I will be the great ship of Japan. This is my vow, and I will never forsake it!” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 280–81).
From the standpoint of society, he was an exile. Though he was the victim of persecution by the powerful and was innocent of the charges brought against him, he found himself sentenced to exile, a penalty second in severity only to execution, and placed in a veritable prison of nature. As was to be expected, however, no chains of any form could ever shackle his spirit.
Throughout the pages of human history, there are many wise people and sages who bravely endured attack and oppression. The Daishonin stands out among them for having declared his intent to save all humankind and secured the path to do so while exiled under the harshest of conditions. “I will be the pillar of Japan,” he cried invincibly. No persecution or devilish force could hinder the Daishonin, who had stood up to fulfill his vow to lead all people to enlightenment.
A person awakened to the inherent Law of life can truly become a colossus of the noblest human spirit.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
In another writing, “The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” Nichiren gives a detailed account of how he came to compose “The Opening of the Eyes”: “After everyone had gone [following the Tsukahara Debate, held in January 1272, on Sado], I began to put into shape a work in two volumes called The Opening of the Eyes, which I had been working on since the eleventh month of the previous year. I wanted to record the wonder of Nichiren, in case I should be beheaded. The essential message in this work is that the destiny of Japan depends solely upon Nichiren. A house without pillars collapses, and a person without a soul is dead. Nichiren is the soul of the people of this country. Hei no Saemon has already toppled the pillar of Japan, and the country grows turbulent as unfounded rumors and speculation rise up like phantoms to cause dissension in the ruling clan. Further, Japan is about to be attacked by a foreign country, as I described in my On Establishing the Correct Teaching. Having written to this effect [in The Opening of the Eyes], I entrusted the manuscript to Nakatsukasa Saburo Saemon-no-jo’s [Shijo Kingo’s] messenger” (WND, 772).
In this passage, the Daishonin recalls his sentiments in writing “The Opening of the Eyes,” which he completed in February 1272. He begins by saying that he started planning the treatise in November 1271, immediately after arriving on Sado on October 28.
He reached Tsukahara on Sado on November 1, amid extremely frigid temperatures. The place where he initially stayed was a dilapidated shrine called the Sammai-do, in the middle of a graveyard. He writes that “it stood on some land where corpses were abandoned” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND, 769). It was a tiny structure consisting of a single room with four posts. No statues of the Buddha were enshrined there; the boards of the roof did not meet, and the walls were full of holes. It was little more than a deserted shack.
In an extreme environment where icy winds blew mercilessly and snow piled high, he placed fur skins on the floor to lie or sit on and spent his days and nights wrapped in a straw coat. In addition to the freezing northern winter to which he was unaccustomed, he also faced a shortage of food provisions. As a result, during November, he sent back some of the young disciples who had accompanied him.
“It is impossible to describe these matters in writing” (“Aspiration for the Buddha Land,” WND, 214), the Daishonin says, referring to the deplorable conditions that confronted him on Sado. He admits to feeling as though he had passed through the realm of hungry spirits and fallen alive into one of the eight cold hells (see “Letter to Horen,” WND, 519). He also observes: “Exiles to this island seldom manage to survive. Even if they do, they never return home. So no one is going to be punished for killing an exile” (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND, 771).
In such a perilous environment, Nichiren immersed himself deep in thought and composed an important work for the enlightenment of humankind. Over the course of approximately three months, he planned out and wrote this treatise, which, in terms of current Japanese standard 400-character manuscript pages, comes to more than 100 pages in length. After arriving on Sado, he set to work right away on this task to lead all people to Buddhahood.
Discussing the Daishonin’s spiritual state while on Sado, President Toda once remarked: “Buddhahood is a state of absolute happiness. A state of being that at each moment is like a translucent ocean or a cloudless sky, utterly invincible and fearless—this is how I perceive the Daishonin’s state of life during his exile on Sado.
“When the Daishonin says, ‘Sacrificing your life for the Lotus Sutra is like exchanging rocks for gold or dung for rice’ (“The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” WND, 764), and ‘For what I have done, I have been condemned to exile, but it is a small suffering to undergo in this present life and not one worth lamenting. In future lives I will enjoy immense happiness, a thought that gives me great joy’ (“The Opening of the Eyes,” WND, 287), I keenly feel that this portrays the state of life of the Buddha of the Latter Day.”
In fact, while living under conditions of indescribable hardship, Nichiren earnestly pondered the question of how he could enable all people to attain Buddhahood; and he clearly constructed the means for achieving this goal by writing “The Opening of the Eyes” and “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind.” As I have said, what sets the Daishonin apart in greatness from countless other historic figures who have endured persecution is that he, amid extreme difficulties, laid a solid foundation to thoroughly secure the path for the enlightenment of all humanity.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Suggested discussion questions:
1. While you may or may not have faced the kinds of severe conditions the Daishonin endured on Sado, is there something you can learn from his struggles there, and if so what?
2. During this most severe persecution, Nichiren produced many of his most important writings, thus “securing the path for the enlightenment of all humanity.” Have you had an experience of being able to establish something solid or accomplish something meaningful during a period of extreme difficulty? Does that help you have courage in the face of current or future difficulties?
3. Nichiren Daishonin revealed his own true identity or Buddhahood amidst these most difficult circumstances and emerged victorious, but he also always reminds us that all human beings equally possess this same potential and calls on us to realize it, or “open our eyes.” Compare this with the teachings or views of other religious figures you may be familiar with.